We know there is no vaccine or antidote that will prevent getting Covid-19, but there are things we can do to help keep our immune system strong!
First lets take a look at your chances of getting sick and what factors play a role!
- Innate Immunity: The body’s natural defense is different for each person. Physical barriers, like the mucous lining and cilia in your nasal passage; chemical barriers, like stomach acid; and protective cells, like white blood cells all play a role in staying healthy and differ from person to person.
- Adaptive Immunity: Past infections and vaccinations can train white blood cells to fight off a specific pathogen more effectively.
- Stress: A large amount of stress or chronic stress and too much cortisol (a stress hormone), can make you more susceptible. How you react to that stress can also impact your susceptibility (more on this later).
- Age: Getting older can mean more adaptive immunity, but around age 70, white blood cell function decreases, and fewer antibodies are produced.
- Body Composition: Too much or too little body fat can interfere with your body’s immunity by affecting compounds and sex hormones that regulate body systems and keep you healthy. Body composition related health conditions (heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, etc.) increase the risk of infection and complications.
- Lifestyle: Nutrient deficiencies and not getting enough rest can lower immune function and your body’s defenses. Exercise has been shown improve immune function. The environment in which you live can also play a part. Densely populated areas can increase exposure to germs (on the other hand, having this exposure might mean you build up more resistance, too).
Here are 8 things you can do to help keep your body healthy and ward off viral and/or bacterial infections.
1. Focus on Whole Foods and Key Nutrients:
- Make sure you are getting a variety of whole, nutrient dense foods like: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, protein, and healthy fats.
- Protein: Proteins are the building blocks of antibodies. People who are protein deficient are more susceptible to infectious disease. Aim for a serving with every meal/snack.
- Vitamin C: Helping to prevent and fight infections. Whole foods are the best source, aim for 1-2 servings per day.
- Vitamin D: Protects against respiratory tract infections. If you are like me and live in a place that doesn’t get much sun (especially in the winter), consider a liquid supplement with 600-4,000 IU/day. I recommend you speak with your primary care provider to determine if a Vitamin D supplement is right for you!
- Zinc: Supports T-cells. Whole food sources include: whole grains, oysters, and scallops are best if available. Lozenges may help if you are already sick.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These can reduce inflammation and help white blood cells do their job. Food sources include: chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and oily fish (for DHA/EPA) are recommenced 2-3 times a week. You can consider a supplement if you don’t eat fish, and again we recommend speaking with your primary care provider first.
2. Achieve and Maintain a Healthy Body Fat Level
- Body composition changes are 90% nutrition. Portion sizes, quality of food, hydration, and calories in vs. calories out are all going to play a role in body composition as well as overall health.
- A great place to start would be to try out Precision Nutrition‘s hand portion method to determine how much you need of each type of food (keep in mind portion sizes will vary based on energy demands per person - this is a general guide):
3. Support Gut Health
- Eating foods that have pre and probiotics like bananas, yogurt, and sauerkraut, can boost good gut bacteria. Probiotics have been shown to help fight bad bacteria and fend off/reduce the duration of upper respiratory infections (like the common cold), and gastrointestinal disruptions such as diarrhea.
- Interestingly, one study found that highly trained distance runners (prone to falling ill from overtaxed immune systems) had less than half the number of sick days when they increased the amount of probiotics in their diet.
4. Move Your Body
- Exercise is a stressor, while too much stress can increase cortisol levels and cause damage long term, moderate intensity exercise has been shown to have an immune boosting effect. So while gyms are closed, doing a 30 minute at home workout that gets your heart-rate going but isn’t overly strenuous can be beneficial. Does that meant that higher intensity workouts are bad, not necessarily, you may just need longer time for a full recovery after.
5. Moderate Alcohol Intake
- It is not clear exactly how alcohol affects immunity, but there is plenty of research that heavy drinking puts health at risk. The recommendation is 1 alcoholic drink per day for women and 1-2 alcoholic drinks per day for men.
- Here are serving sizes for different types of alcoholic beverages:
6. Sleep Well
- Getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep can help your body recover and repair. To get the best sleep possible try to turn off electronics 30 minutes before bed, clear your mind by reading or meditating, stick to a reasonable bedtime (ideally before 12am), make your room as dark as possible, and keep your sleep area cool and clean. I recommend starting by creating a nightly routine that helps you wind down at the end of the day.
7. Balance Your Stress Load
- Unfortunately, it is unrealistic to try and completely remove stress from your life. It’s important to find a middle ground and handle stress in a healthy way. Overeating and over-drinking can add to your stress load. Instead, try prioritizing downtime, meditating, going for a walk, or laugh with a friend!
8. Remember Hygiene Fundamentals
- It goes without saying that washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, and not touching your face are detrimental to staying healthy right now.
- There are other hygiene practices that you might not be doing, including: disinfecting frequently used objects and surfaces (your phone, keys, ID badges, credit cards, railings, laptop, fridge, etc.). Secondly, practice food safety by sanitizing all food prep and eating surfaces, use separate cutting boards for raw meats, cook foods to the proper internal temperature, and refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours of cooking.
Stay safe and stay healthy!
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